Posted on March 21, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Does Elie Wiesel speak Hungarian?

By Carolyn Yeager
copyright 2013 carolyn yeager

The answer might be:  Barely.  Or rudimentarily.

Elie Wiesel is known for putting big ones over on the American (and other English-speaking) people, so it is no surprise to us that he is also faking his knowledge of Hungarian. I had already noticed that, on the rare occasions he is shown speaking that language, he doesn’t go beyond short phrases or even just one-or-two-word questions and answers. Not being linguistically gifted myself, I didn’t feel I could say much about it.

Image right: The pretentious Tom Lantos Human Rights Prize for 2010 was presented to the pretentious Elie Wiesel (shown with Lantos’ widow) in November 2010. [Photo by Babette Rittmeyer & Brittany Smith]  More about Tom Lantos below.

But now a Hungarian-American reader named John contacted me about the video “Elie Wiesel Goes Home.” He began by watching the short segment (2 min 29 sec) that is available on Youtube.  He noticed discrepancies right away.

 According to John:

Wiesel is speaking Hungarian words, but they are not spontaneous and his “inflections” are all wrong. The person he is speaking with IS speaking spontaneously, with proper Hungarian (very language specific) inflections, and using the proper idiomatically correct sentence structures.  Wiesel is speaking in a short, pressured, and monotone manner – more like if a foreign-born person would have studied a travel guide.

Also, Wiesel’s accent while speaking English is not like a native Hungarian who is speaking English. Listen to former Senator Tom Lantos – he was from Hungary and also of Jewish descent; his accent, while speaking English, has the distinctive Hungarian characteristics that I am familiar with.

John told me why he thinks he is a competent judge of Wiesel’s language skills:

I was born in Hungary and escaped from there in 1956. I am fluent in Hungarian (without any accent) and I am fluent in English (without any accent). I was educated both in the U.S. and (some) in Europe, I have traveled a lot and I understand “cultural idioms.”

In his first message to me, John detailed a few translation errors in the video segment.

Video captions vs. the correct translation:
@48 seconds into the video the caption reads “This is the most important” – the correct translation is “This is the most interesting

@ 54 seconds into the video the caption reads “A farewell letter. When they knew they’d be taken away.” – the correct translation is: “This is a farewell letter,  [written] while they were already waiting, to take them away”

@ 57 seconds into the video the caption reads “I had a Christian employee” – the man simply says “I had an employee.”

John then did an exact word for word comparison of the captions on the film segment versus what was actually spoken between the two men. The Hungarian is showing some family photos to Wiesel as they speak. What we notice is that Elie Wiesel said very little, and at times the Hungarian man didn’t seem to understand Wiesel’s words. In order to demonstrate that, I will now copy just the actual words that passed between the two, leaving aside the captions. Wiesel’s speech is in blue boldface.

My brother’s family. You said you knew them?
This is with his wife. His children, my oldest brother, who might have known you. [Note that Wiesel does not answer.-cy]
And, ah, did they go to Auschwitz?
What’s that?
They went to Auschwitz.

Everyone. They don’t exist to anyone. I would remember. They don’t exist.
This is my mother.
Mother. Did she die here in Sighet or Auschwitz?
Iske died in Sighet, she lived until ’34.
This is our entire family …  as we were [as all of us that were around].
And this?
This. This is the most interesting. This …  is a farewell letter,  while they were already waiting, to take them away.
Then … I had an employee …  [Wiesel interrupts as if he doesn’t know what was said about the employee.-cy]
They didn’t know about Auschwitz.
They didn’t know, of course no one knew, and it came to us [later] what was to be.
Then they, the children, wrote me a farewell letter, because they knew then that …  I had sent the man from the forests to find out what’s going on …  [“forests” could refer to a region, i.e. Transylvania in Hungarian is “Erdély” meaning “The Forests” – John] and afterwards, on the last day, they sent me this letter — that the children, he, his wife and my father say farewell to me.
This is very important.

Wiesel turns to one of his crew near him and says in English:  “This is a collective letter of farewell that the entire family wrote to him the day of the deportation, this is very important.”

This is very important.
Yes. From the content you’ll see —
what kind of mood, sadness, they didn’t know what was going to happen …  they were sitting on their luggage and waited for them to come …  poor things … and then, well, the rest of it we already know …  we didn’t know what would be desired to happen, or what will happen. I told all of this stuff to Militka in English.
No one came back?
No one came back?
No one in the world.
No one.
There would still be a lot more, but these are the most important.  I am very happy for this because it would have been lost.
This … it was left.

It is clear from this that Wiesel’s part in this conversation consists of very few words, spoken repetitively. Add to this the claim by Nikolaus Grüner that Wiesel declined to speak with him in Hungarian when they met in Stockholm in 1986, and other situations wherein Wiesel had the opportunity to show off his Hungarian but didn’t … and we have to assume that he is simply unable to speak it with any fluency.

What else can explain Elie Wiesel’s lack of understanding of the Hungarian language?

As I have written in earlier articles, Elie Wiesel did not like public secular school, but he  loved Jewish religious school. As a youth, he often played sick and missed school.  Yiddish was the common language spoken in the home and in the community.  Wiesel learned Hebrew and devoted himself to the Talmud and other Jewish religious texts. He did not like Gentiles and avoided them; Hungarian was the language of the enemy. Later, at age 17 (or earlier?) he went to France and became a French speaker.

But why doesn’t he just say so? Why does he prefer to give people a false impression about himself? Is this just another aspect of his need to lie — to make up stories, to see that which didn’t happen as if it did happen, and that which did as not having happened? Is Elie Wiesel just an inveterate, or compulsive, liar?

“Holocaust survivors” are mostly people who tell lies. The late Senator Tom Lantos (below left) is a good example. It turns out that he and Elie Wiesel are the same age — both born in 1928, in February and September respectively,  and according to their own accounts (no other confirmation) were  arrested in Spring 1944 in the Jewish round-up in Hungary. Wiesel says he was sent to Auschwitz and got tattooed, along with his father. Lantos tells a different story.

Is there any reason to believe the story Tom Lantos tells of being a “holocaust survivor?”

Tom Lantos was born in 1928 (same year as Elie Wiesel) to a Jewish family living in Budapest. According to his Foundation biography, “as a teenager he was sent to a forced labor camp by the German Nazi occupant military. After escaping the labor camp, he sought refuge with an aunt who lived in a safe house operated by Raoul Wallenberg …”

Wikipedia (Ref. #8) uses the Biography Channel as the source for Lantos’ holocaust survival story:

In March 1944, [Lantos] was sent to a labor camp in Szob, a small village about 40 miles north of Budapest. He and his fellow inmates maintained a key bridge on the Budapest-Vienna rail line. Lantos escaped, was captured and beaten, then escaped a second time and returned to Budapest.

Do we know that Lantos was not paid for this labor – as so many were – but still “ran away” and returned to Budapest, where he met up with some form of resistance organization? No we don’t.  No research has been done; no proof or records of any of this has been presented. It is simply accepted that Tom Lantos is a holocaust survivor and entitled to the sympathy and prestige that accompanies  that status, plus payments for life from the “perpetrators.”  His Foundation biography continues:

“After the Russians liberated Budapest in 1945, Tom tried to locate his mother and family members but came to realize that they had all perished …”

Tom was in Budapest all that time and didn’t try to locate his mother?! His story is that he was “able to move around freely due to his having blond hair and blue eyes, which to the Nazis were physical signs of Aryanism”  … as if the German police were even in Budapest and, if they were, would be unaware that Jews could also have blond hair and blue eyes.  “As a result, he acted as a courier for the underground movement and delivered food and medicine to Jews living in other safe houses.” Naturally, he is presented as a positive figure, similar to Max Hamburger.

There is nothing finally said about what befell his family members, yet Wikipedia states, without any source or reference whatsoever, that “his mother and other family members had all been killed by the Germans, along with 450,000 other Hungarian Jews during the preceding 10 months of their occupation.” Believable? The source of all this can only be Tom Lantos himself, who has already been outed (by Eric Hunt, for one, in his film “The Last Days of the Big Lie“) as a practiced liar in hearings about Iraq on Capitol Hill. But heck, we all know …

His experiences in the Holocaust and afterward were highlighted in the Academy Award winning documentary The Last Days (1998) produced by Steven Spielberg‘s Shoah Foundation.

Some things we can learn from all this:

  1. Sixteen-year-old boys in Hungary were just as likely to be sent directly to nearby labor camps, and not to Auschwitz, in which case they would NOT have been tattooed with an Auschwitz camp number. This could explain something about Elie Wiesel.
  2. It was not too difficult in 1944 to escape custody and join the “resistance” without being discovered, especially if you had close relatives who had managed to avoid deportation.
  3. These 16-year-olds had  fathers, mothers and siblings that were also capable of work, but supposedly were not sent to labor camps as Tom Lantos was, but for some unexplainable reason to Auschwitz to be killed. In any case, it is always said that none survived.


16 Comments to Does Elie Wiesel speak Hungarian?

  1. by Whodareswings

    On March 22, 2013 at 7:45 am

    “Within Judaism’s ranks, fascism found its most immediate enemy in the Judaism of Moses Mendelssohn and the Yiddish Renaissance. In Israel today, a Nazi-like form of fascist tyranny is centered in the currently ruling, Bonapartist consulate of the ruling circles of the IDF. In the background, we find that the corrupting influence of existentialism, as spread back into Israel by the arguments of Martin Buber, has been the corrosive, anti-Mendelssohn sickness, which made possible a widespread abandonment of everything precious which the Mendelssohn-led reform and the Yiddish Renaissance had contributed to European civilization at large. Today, any American Jew who wishes to know what Nazism was, and who supports the present rampage of Sharon and the IDF directorate, need but stand before the mirror, and look into his own hate-filled, enraged eyes. Take the case of wild-eyed Congressman Tom Lantos, for example.”

    -Lyndon Larouche


  2. by Carolyn

    On March 22, 2013 at 10:16 am

    I don’t really like this quote, wdw. The last line about Lantos is not worth listening to Larouche tell us that “Nazism” is like the rampage of Sharon and the IDF. It also praises Judaism, Mendelssohn and Martin Buber, which I cannot go along with.



    On March 22, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    Eely Weasel speaks more “goulash” than he speaks Hungarian.


  4. by Jett Rucker

    On April 1, 2013 at 5:07 am

    The term “safe house” is seriously misleading, as so much of the testimony of the exterminationists is.

    Compromises between the government of Hungary (a German ALLY, of course) and the German government: (a) exempted virtually ALL the Jews of Budapest from deportation, except for certain young people like Lantos, who were sent to small work camps nearby in Hungary and Austria, and that only temporarily (Lantos did NOT “escape”); and (b) designated neighborhoods and apartment houses for occupancy by these protected Jews (yes, removing most of said Jews from their original residences elsewhere in Budapest).

    “Safe house” implies an undercover, clandestine, illegal sort of refuge, where in fact the houses occupied by Jews in Budapest were DESIGNATED for them by the government and the German occupation. And Jews only had to LIVE there – they remained free to move about during the day, though leaving Budapest could be risky.


  5. by Carolyn

    On April 1, 2013 at 11:07 am

    Jett – thanks for elaborating on this. Because I do not/cannot spend as much time on these articles as they actually deserve, I appreciate when revisionist readers add to them like you’ve done here. Yes, it’s true, which had slipped my mind, that the Jews of Budapest were pretty much left alone. This makes it even more clear that Tom Lantos would not qualify to call himself a “holocaust survivor” if the term had any meaning. He was no different, and no more heroic than all the other Jews in Budapest who were happy to save their own skins. After the fact, they make up stories about their “resistance activities.”
    None of his biographies have a word to say about his family. Only that he was sent to a labor camp just 40 miles away (they were maintaining a bridge!); after that he never saw any of them again? Claims they were all murdered by Nazis? He could not say they were sent to Auschwitz since there were no transports from Budapest. Too bad I didn’t start paying attention to him before he died.


  6. by Florin

    On July 10, 2013 at 9:50 pm

    You, all, should take in consideration that Wiesel’s birthplace and childhood, Sighet, was part of Romania from 1918 until 1940, when annexed to Hungary as a consequence of Vienna Dictate, just as is nowadays. A population survey from 1930 indicates that in Sighet region lived 58,9% Romanians, 15,3% Ruthenians, 14,6% Jews and 10,3% Magyars.

    Therefore the question is what kind of Romanian language he speaks, what school he attended, who were his schoolmates and so on. He spent on Romanian territory his first 16 years of his life.

    What kind of early teen life had he when forced to sort out almost 60% of the kids of same age because he did not speak their language.

    Kind regards from an unconditioned admirer of your work,
    Florin from Romania


  7. by Carolyn

    On July 13, 2013 at 1:33 am

    Wiesel doesn’t speak Romanian either. You give the population of the “Sighet region” — as we know, Jews live in cities. The percentage of Jews in Sighet proper was considerably higher, from 30% to 50% is what I have come across in Wiesel-friendly books. Wiesel spoke Yiddish at home and didn’t like regular school; did like Jewish religious school. Sighet was not a small town, so perhaps he went to school with a lot of Yiddish-speaking students from his part of the city. We don’t know because he doesn’t make any clear statements about this. He has said his sister Hilda was fluent in Romanian. That would have been her choice, it seems.

    I have written all I could find out about Wiesel’s early life in “Shadowy Origins of Night.” Have you read it?

    There is a scanty narrative of Elie Wiesel’s early life that is repeated by everyone that writes about him. It’s like what is sufficient for a myth, but not for any real understanding or analysis of Wiesel as a person. I’m open to any information anyone can provide me.


  8. by Carolyn

    On July 14, 2013 at 5:32 am

    Florin – I didn’t notice on first reading that you said “his first 16 years of his life.” Born on Sept. 30, 1928, Elie Wiesel was 12 years old in 1940, when Sighet became part of Hungary. Are you trying to say that it was always Roumania, even if the Hungarians got control of it for awhile? Today, Roumania controls territory that was Hungarian for hundreds of years.


  9. by DT

    On August 14, 2013 at 11:06 pm

    I don’t understand what you’re proving here. It’s not surprising in itself that Wiesel’s Hungarian isn’t fluent. He’s had little cause to use it since 1944 and in any case, as you yourself say, he may never have spoken it that well to begin with. Lots of Jews all over Europe spoke Yiddish as a native language and were far worse with local gentile languages.

    The thrust of your argument seems to be that Wiesel is somehow misrepresenting himself as a fluent Hungarian speaker. But where has he said this? You don’t provide any evidence that he claims to speak flawless Hungarian. In fact, I’m sure he’d readily admit that he doesn’t.

    So what have you proved here?


  10. by Carolyn

    On August 15, 2013 at 4:52 am

    DT – Wiesel tries continually to influence the Hungarian government, and criticize Hungarians, portraying himself as one of the “Hungarian Jews” who were deported to Auschwitz in Spring 1944. He does the same with Romania, the country he actually grew up in, but he doesn’t speak Romanian at all. He grew up speaking Yiddish, which means he was a Jew, a Zionist Jew, who did not participate or identify in any way with the Gentile nation he lived in. He speaks and writes in French now, which he knows better than English. How long did he live in France and at what age did he arrive?

    This question is impossible to find accurate answers to. But his pretense to being Hungarian is dishonest at least in spirit. He hates real Hungarians and speaks only from the point of view of an International Jew. He never wanted to speak their language, so didn’t learn it. But pretends in this film that he does speak it. It was a Hungarian who brought it to my attention and found it worth commenting on. I would call that misrepresentation. If Wiesel were honest, he would admit he doesn’t know much Hungarian, but that he has never, ever done.

    In fact, Wiesel never sets the record straight on anything. He allows untruths about himself to proliferate everywhere.


  11. by DT

    On August 19, 2013 at 9:53 am

    Where in that film does he say he speaks good Hungarian? All that it shows is him doing his best to speak what Hungarian he can with someone who wants to speak to him in Hungarian. You haven’t presented any evidence that he claims to speak Hungarian well.

    Similarly, can you point me to a quote where Wiesel has put on a ‘pretense to being Hungarian’? If anything it is the other way round: Hungary has tried to claim him. He was awarded a ‘Great Cross’ by the Hungarian government, invited by them to speak at the Hungarian parliament and meet with the prime minister and president.


  12. by Carolyn

    On August 21, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    This article came about because a native Hungarian speaker, who is also fluent in English, wrote to me about Wiesel’s poor Hungarian in the film Elie Wiesel Goes Home. Note that Hungary is referred to as “home.”
    In the conversation with the Hungarian, Elie could have used a translator, but he chose to make it appear that he speaks Hungarian. That is all the “evidence” that is necessary.
    Nikolaus Grüner grew up in Hungary just as Wiesel did, left at the age of 16 and never returned, and he can speak Hungarian. Tom Lantos grew up in Hungary; he emigrated to the U.S. in 1946. He spoke fluent Hungarian. These 3 men were the same age, born in 1928. Why were Grüner and Lantos able to speak Hungarian, but not Wiesel? It is an interesting, worthwhile question and that is why it was asked in the article.


  13. by Abdul

    On September 15, 2013 at 6:32 am

    I am an Englishman who spends a lot of time in Budapest and I can confirm that Elie Wiesel does not speak English with a Hungarian accent.

    However, I have an acquaintance in Budapest whose accent when speaking English is identical to that of Elie Wiesel. He is a Serb from Novi Sad. Therefore I believe Elie Wiesel is from Serbia, possibly from Novi Sad. This is backed up by his entry card from Yugoslavia to France in the 1950s, which is posted on the internet. It is also why he was used as a US ambassador to Serbia and Croatia during the Balkans war. I do not believe that Elie Wiesel is Jewish as his craggy facial features are more similar to my Serbian acquaintance than to any Jewish person I know.


  14. by Carolyn

    On September 18, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    Abdul – I am familiar with the entry card you speak of; I included it on my very first post at this website, titled “Welcome.” I don’t know of a good explanation for it.

    But to think Elie Wiesel is not Jewish when he is a totally Jewish-looking person! Could he be a Serbian Jew? lol


  15. by Abdul

    On October 5, 2013 at 8:44 am

    I think the evidence is pretty conclusive that Elie Wiesel is not Jewish. Miklos Gruner, in his book “Stolen Identity” mentions that when he met him, Elie Wiesel refused to speak to him in Yiddish. Also, he mentions that at the Nobel Prize presentation Elie Wiesel spoke a prayer in Hebrew wrongly, which showed that he does not understand Hebrew. Elie Wiesel is a very strange Jew if he does not understand Yiddish or Hebrew.


  16. by Carolyn

    On October 5, 2013 at 11:56 am

    Elie Wiesel declined to speak in Hungarian with Miklos Grüner in Stockholm. I don’t remember about the Yiddish, will have to look it up. But Wiesel does know Yiddish.
    Saying a Hebrew prayer wrong is not conclusive evidence that someone is not a Jew.

    P.S. You say Miklos (Nikolas) Grüner in his book Stolen Identity said that Elie Wiesel refused to speak Yiddish with him. I do not recall that and if I read it there I would have made something out of it. Obviously, I did not. You need to quote the words and the page number from the book. Grüner has never claimed that Wiesel is not a Jew, only that he is not Hungarian. So come up with something or I am going to remove your comments altogether, Mr. Abdul.


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